<I>Variety</I> staffers select moments of mirth

1. 30 ROCK
“Fireworks” — April 5
TV-and-microwave-oven programming guru Jack (Alec Baldwin) finally meets his match when another ambitious exec (guest Will Arnett) begins openly vying for his job, prompting Jack to use his rival’s gayness in an attempt to ward him off. NBC’s other ratings-challenged backstage series about a latenight TV program managed to survive thanks to critical buzz, powered in large part by the show’s goofy energy and Baldwin’s big-time comedic chops.

– Brian Lowry

2. ENTOURAGE
“Return of the King” — May 6
HBO’s “it” half-hour about Hollywood reached its comedic peak with this episode, in which a movie deal is dangerously close to going south on Yom Kippur — a holy day when observant Jews aren’t supposed to conduct any business. Just watching agent Ari (Jeremy Piven) try to sneak his phone into temple (in his sock, no less, Mafia-style) is worth the price of admission, or subscription, or whatever.

– Brian Lowry

3. EXTRAS
“Episode 11″ — Feb. 11
Guest star Ian McKellen, in a mock portrayal of his exalted self, explains the science of acting to Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) with jarringly literal detail: “How did I know what to say? They had my lines written down on a script. How did I know where to stand? People showed me.”

– Jon Weisman

4. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
“Slap Bet” — Nov. 20
Not only did this installment of CBS’ sophomore skein out Robin (Cobie Smulders) as a former Canadian child star named Robin Sparkles (her hit single: “Let’s Go to the Mall”), it also featured Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Marshall (Jason Segel) entering into a wager in which the loser pays his debt in the form of being slapped really hard in the face a predetermined number of times, at any time, place and episode the winner chooses. Barney has a few of those still coming.

– Daniel Frankel

5. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
“Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare” — July 6
In a show as cleverly audacious as any other on television, the quest of brother and sister Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) to pursue their dreams morphs into a test of the limits of their laziness, culminating in their smoking crack to qualify for welfare payments to recovering addicts.

– Jon Weisman

6. MY NAME IS EARL
“Our ‘Cops’ Is On!” — Jan. 4
The old flashback gets freshened up when Earl (Jason Lee) and his gang of recovering ne’er-do-wells gather around the Crab Shack TV to watch a 2003 episode of “Cops” filmed right there in Camden County. They all, of course, starred in that particular installment of the Fox reality program, with Tim Stack — in a meta-role that features the actor as a down-and-out version of himself still wearing his “Son of the Beach” outfit everywhere he goes — captured on tape getting a DUI.

– Daniel Frankel

7. THE OFFICE
“Product Recall” — April 26
The relentless pranking of Jim (John Krasinski) reaches a high point when he shows up at work dressed, combed and braying about “bears, beets and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ ” in a dead-on impersonation of co-worker Dwight (Rainn Wilson) — lest anyone forget amid the office drama and romance that comedy is at the show’s core.

– Jon Weisman

8. The Sarah Silverman Program
“Batteries” — March 7
Translating her stage persona to TV, comic Sarah Silverman is thoroughly self-absorbed, but her mundane existence has its moments — such as when her need for batteries to power up the remote control leads, albeit circuitously, to a sexual tryst with God. OK, so it won’t be eveybody’s cup of tea. That’s part of her charm.

– Brian Lowry

9. TWO AND A HALF MEN
“Apologies for the Frivolity” — Oct. 23
Womanizing Charlie (Charlie Sheen) discovers to his horror — though it’s obvious to everyone else — that he’s dating a younger version of his mother, which, if nothing else, gives the always-delightful Holland Taylor a chance to be at her surly, sniping best. Plus, how many oral sex jokes can you slip into a primetime sitcom? Watch and find out.

– Brian Lowry

10. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE
“Friends” — April 30
Feeling lonely, and recalling a long-ago shared kiss, little brother Matthew (Hamish Linklater) starts thinking about getting frisky with his sister’s friend Barb (Wanda Sykes) after their car breaks down during a sleepover trip to the desert. Sykes, who raises the show up a notch when she’s given more to do than just retort Christine’s obnoxiousness, is comic gold and her shocked reaction to Matthew’s advances bring about a healthy guffaw.

– Stuart Levine

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